Django Unchained (2012) d. Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained (2012) d. Quentin Tarantino

As someone who was introduced to the films of Quentin Tarantino in the
2000s with Kill Bill, I have always been more familiar with the
indulgent fanboy side of him. For a time during his post-Jackie Brown
hiatus, many believed his next work would be something even more
low-key and maybe even profound. But all he has done since is lower
expectations with increasingly violent homages to cult sub-sub-genres
of movies he grew up with, even indirectly remaking two of his
favourites, as part of a Spaghetti Western trilogy: Inglourious
Basterds and now this, a loose remake/homage to the 1966 Spaghetti
Western Django starring Franco Nero, who features in a cameo here. It begins with the slave Django being unchained by German-born bounty
hunter ‘Dr’ King Schultz. A giant tooth wiggles atop Schultz’s carriage
impertinently throughout the picture, though unusually for a Tarantino
flic’, he at no point performs any impromptu dentistry on the crackers
and rednecks he’s gunning for. Schultz promises to free Django from
slavery upon collecting several bounties across the Deep South and then
repay him by rescuing Django’s conveniently German-speaking wife
Brunhilde from Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie
(played with devilish menace by Leonardo DiCaprio) of Candyland.Jamie Foxx relishes executing every evil white man, reminiscent of
every Fred Williamson blaxploitation character while Christoph Waltz
gets to take off the Nazi uniform from his last QT collaboration and
play the guilty-ass white man. He is the most interesting and complex
of all the characters herein (though that may not be saying much) as
his arc of development reflects that of the European-American. He deals
with his guilt at not having done enough in the latter half of the
movie when he witnesses a slave’s tearing apart by dogs and one
Mandingo warrior gouge out another’s eyes for the pleasure of
‘Monsieur’ Candie.As with all Tarantini, revenge is served with bombastic effect. If
there is anything unconventional in the violence of the movie it is the
disproportionate meting out of cruelty to the slaveholders and Uncle
Toms, who only receive gunshots to the heart or unceremonious
kneecappings while innocent slaves are mauled, gouged of their eyes and
beaten with hammers or robbed of dignity in the aforementioned Mandingo
fights and of course, their heritage. Perhaps this is Quentin’s way of
reminding us his stories take place in unjust worlds not unlike the
ones we live in.Unlike most blaxploitation pictures set in the era, the slaves of the
movie are only freed after being bought with money by a white man and
this is why it could be argued it is a blaxploitation movie for white
audiences, coming to terms with the history of racial oppression in the
US and a new era where the ‘minorities’ of yesteryear collectively
comprise the majority but the white plurality is rapidly becoming
marginalized politically. Blood splatters white lilies, cotton, and
snow to remind us how white America got where it is. A black-n-white
President may symbolize the transitional phase the county is in but the
transformation has not yet been realised. The debt owed by many
Americans is not merely a monetary one.Although after pondering these issues, the film proceeds for another
half-hour wherein any remaining do-badders are riddled with bullets or
blown apart by dynamite in a fairly unimaginative and convoluted way.
Watching the weak climax one longs for the return of Sally Menke’s
guiding hand to guide a pair of scissors over the 2:15 mark and
graciously snip it loose. QT is definitely missing that woman’s
touch dearly: those scenes deleted could have sold countless ‘Extended Edition’ DVDs.As a genre film however, it is an excellent meshing of two deeply
entrenched yet juxtaposed American icons: the cowboy and the slave. The
former symbolizing America’s unity and freedom after the Civil War
somehow entwined with one representing America’s division (then between
North and South; a century later, between largely urban and rural) and
tyranny. In a movie ending on the eve of the Civil War, the future and
the past. Hip hop music is played to the desired startling effect over
images of Django’s horse seemingly strutting him into the Candyland
plantation but everything else has been seen before in one form or
another.It must sully the memories of cineastes who were once so electrified by
the jarring chords of the Miserloo nineteen years ago and the overnight
globalisation of that treasured American epithet, Motherf*cker, to see
what little Quentin Tarantino has done to show he’s learnt anything
since. Postmodernist masturbation may be enough for audiences these
days who disregard ‘elitist’ critics and their analyses but if this is
the case our filmmakers should unchain their own minds and emancipate
viewers worldwide with a cinema of meaning.

Author: Dan George

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